Last April, one month before my 60th birthday, I began taking flight lessons. My family gave me the go ahead and my wife, Meredith, in particular made it possible for me to do this. It’s been an interesting experience.
So on this day, after a two month break from flight training due to an out of commission plane, I met with my instructor for another lesson. He said we would do a few touch and gos—probably to assess how much I remembered or forgot since my last lesson in September. He tried to encourage me by saying, “we can probably get you to solo… (enter a measure of nervousness here) before Christmas.”
So after we did our six touch and gos, including some OK landings and some not-so-OK ones, we taxied back toward the parking area when all of a sudden my instructor said, “I think you’re ready to solo.” Yikes! He’s got to be kidding. I felt the blood begin to drain from my body… I just hadn’t planned on this turn of events.
After some last minute instructions from my instructor, including an exhortation to not forget the “little things,” I found myself in the plane, alone, about an hour before sundown, taxiing toward runway 11 and talking with some stranger in the control tower. I’m not saying that my life passed before my eyes, but it was something like that.
After holding short of runway 11 for some time, the guy in the control tower cleared me for takeoff, and I faced the reality that this was really happening. Thankfully, all the practice kind of kicked in. I managed to accelerate straight down the runway and then lifted off. At around 700 feet (still climbing), I began my loop back to where I would make my final approach and begin the dreaded landing procedure.
Then that same guy from the tower really messed things up. He got on the radio and said, “45904, extend your downwind leg and look for the (mumble… mumble).” It was a jet. A big jet. He wanted me to follow the incoming jet. Great. Now I didn’t just have to deal with the intricacies of doing my first landing without the instructor; I also would have to avoid wake turbulence from the jet and I would be extending my approach to—wherever.
Anyway, from somewhere in the crevices of my brain, I managed to pick out all those “little things” that I needed to remember to land this plane. I think I did an adequate job of “making my petitions known to God” at about this time.
The thing with landings is that they will happen one way or another, and probably sooner than later. So this was it, I was on a descent to runway 11 and at some point during this descent it occurred to me that there could be no mess-ups. After all, Thanksgiving was two days away and messing up now would definitely be bad form, not to mention that a mistake now would make for a really bad day.
Touching down was, well, less than OK, but I was rolling straight down the center of runway 11 and that was a really good feeling. I had made it—mostly intact—except for the possible long range negative effects of having about a gallon of adrenaline coursing through my veins for ten minutes. I survived.
Thank you Maine Aviation instructors: Adam for getting me started, Kelsey for good advice, and Pete for kicking me out of the nest. Thank you Lord for helping me to sharpen up my prayer life a bit. And Mik, thank you again for making a childhood dream possible. As Pete (my instructor) said to me, “you only solo for the first time once.” That’s what I did today.